Throwback Thursday: Waaaaay Back to the 1938 Old Orchard Beach (ME) 10M

The 80th Anniversary of the Old Orchard Beach 10-Mile Marathon

(Reprised from the July/August 2018 edition of New England Runner magazine)




Historian, library director, runner and NER loyalist Thomas Bennettof Auburn, Maine has happened upon a treasure trove of archival race information from a bygone era. A colleague at the Portland Public Library first alerted Bennett to a batch of negatives from the archives of the Portland Press Herald. The first negative Bennett saw was of radio comedian Fred Allen holding a microphone surrounded by a well-dressed crowd. Further investigation revealed the event Allen was attending was the 1938 Old Orchard Beach 10-Mile Marathon.




Much credit for what would prove to be an exhaustive project goes to Portland Public Library Special Collections Librarian and Archivist Abraham Schechter, who began work on the Portland Press HeraldStill Film Negative Collection in 2009, and since then has canvassed around 1.2 million pieces of film. Abraham is indexing and conserving the collection, which spans the years 1936 through 2004, and to date has scanned around 3,000 of the images.




Holding a cigar and wearing a Judge’s ribbon, radio comedian Fred Allen holds court at the inaugural OOB 10M Marathon. Photo courtesy of the Portland Press Herald



The above info was provided by Bennett, now the archivist for the Maine Running Hall of Fame, who studied the “Allen” photo with Abraham and offered the following description: “After enlarging the scan, we had a better understanding of what the image represented.



“Allen’s badge shows that he is a judge and official for the Old Orchard Beach Marathon, and although the full date isn’t clear, you can make out that it was in August 1938. The woman in front to Allen’s right is holding what looks like a program, and enlarging that piece reveals an entrants list for the Old Orchard Beach 10 Mile Marathon, but unfortunately we can’t make out any names. Calling a distance of less than 26.2 miles a marathon was quite common during that time period.


“A number of things struck me about the image. This is a very well-dressed crowd for a running event, and the fact that Allen is using a WGAN microphone indicates media interest. Allen’s involvement as a judge and the fact that a start list was produced lends further status to the event. If you took out the reference to a marathon, you might assume you were looking at a high society crowd at a horse track.




What follows is a truncated version of an immensely enjoyable look back at a bygone era illuminated in a presentation written by Thomas Bennett. The photos are courtesy of the Old Orchard Beach Historical Society and the Portland Public Library Special Collections and Archives.




Elites at the Beach: the Old Orchard Beach 10 Mile Marathon

A presentation by Thomas C. Bennett




…The race was sponsored by the Old Orchard Beach Board of Selectmen as a special attraction for the summer season, and was scheduled to start around 3:35 PM so “there would be little danger of trains tieing [sic] up the runners at the crossings.”




On the starting line for the 1938 OOB 10M (L-R): “Hawk” Zamparelli (in Carr Club singlet) Les Pawson, Clarence DeMar, Paul Donato (over DeMar’s shoulder) race official and Bowdoin College Coach Johnny Magee and Tarzan Brown. Photo courtesy of Old Orchard Beach Historical Society



Board of Selectmen involvement in the event was not unusual. The devastating fire that destroyed the town’s landmark pier on August 5, 1907, resulted in the creation of the Old Orchard Beach Board of Trade, which joined forces with town officials in creating and marketing events designed to bring tourists to the beach.




Auto races held on Labor Day weekend in 1911 drew 50,000 people, and transatlantic flights took off from the beach in the 1920s. Large air shows held on the beach drew thousands of spectators, and Maine’s first dance marathon took place at the Palace Ballroom in 1923. The Town of Old Orchard Beach took possession of the beach in 1935 and turned it into a public park, and efforts to market the town as a beach destination continue to the present.




The press release stated that “Upwards of 50,000 spectators are expected to be on the sidelines to watch the marathoners battle for top honors, as not only Old Orchard Beach but all southern Maine has become excited over the event.




There has been no great favorite installed… Elaborate plans have been made to take care of the huge crowds and to keep them from hindering the runners. The race will start in the Beach square and continue over the following route: West Grand Avenue to Temple Avenue, Ocean Park; Temple Avenue to Ocean Park Avenue to the Portland road; to Cascade Road to Portland Avenue; Old Orchard Street to starting point.”




Turning left onto West Grand Ave. from Old Orchard St., Hawk Zamparelli holds down one side of the street and Tarzan Brown the other. Photo courtesy of Old Orchard Beach Historical Society




There were 32 entrants, including:




Ellison “Tarzan” Brown, of Westerly, RI, a Narragansett Indian who won the Boston Marathon in 1936 and 1939. During the 1936 race, Brown was seeded 147th out of 215 registrants. He started fast, going through 11 miles at 4:36 pace, and set new records to all the stations through 21 miles. Johnny Kelley caught Brown on the final Newton hill, and patted the slowing runner on the shoulder as he went by. Brown accelerated and went on to win, while Kelley faded to fifth, and Heartbreak Hill got its name. Brown’s win at Boston in 1936 resulted in his being named to the U.S. marathon team at the Berlin Olympics, but a hernia forced him to drop out after 30 kilometers.




Clarence DeMar, of Keene, NH, winner of the Boston Marathon seven times between 1911 and 1930. He represented the U.S. at the Olympics three times, running the Marathon in 1912 (12th), 1924 (3rd), and 1928 (27th). DeMar set the course record at Boston for the 25-mile course in 1911 and 1922, in 1924 for the re-measured course that was apparently 176 yards short, and for the full 26.2 mile course in 1927 and again in 1928.




Paul Donato, of Roxbury, MA. He was 2nd at the 1938 Pike’s Peak Vertical Mile in Colorado, placed 5th, 6th, 5th and 9th at Boston for the years 1938-41, and would finish 2nd at Mount Washington in 1938. Donato ran, boxed and wrestled wearing the logo of the Boys Club of Boston, and was named first alternate marathoner for the U.S. team for the 1940 Olympics, which were cancelled due to WWII.




Leslie Pawson, of Pawtucket, RI, who set the course record at Boston in 1933 when he ran 2:31:01. In 1938, with temperatures in the 70s, Pawson let Duncan McCallum of Canada push the pace early on, while Johnny Kelley, his rival, friend and training partner, held the lead from miles eight through 15. Pawson moved into first through Newton Lower Falls, and finished in 2:35:34. He won Boston a third time in 1941.




Andrew “Hawk” Zamparelli, of Medford, MA, was the alternate on the 1936 US Olympic team in the 10,000 meters; Junior National, New England Collegiate and AAU 10,000 meters champ; and the 1936 New England Cross Country Champion.




Les Pawson was the reigning Boston Marathon champ going into Old Orchard Beach, but Brown and Zamparelli had run impressive times at the ten-mile distance in the weeks leading up to the race, including Zamparelli’s 48:33 at the Bunker Hill Day ten-miler on June 17th.




Pawson posted a 53:58 for ten miles in Haverhill on June 24, and the following day ran 55:47 in West Roxbury. On July 4th at the St. Margaret Mary’s 10-miler in Worcester, Brown ran 55:16 to Pawson’s 57:45. One week later in New Bedford, he ran 1:05:07 for 12 miles, beating Johnny Kelley by more than a minute, Pawson by nearly four and Zamparelli by more than eight.




At the Holy Name 10-miler on July 28th in Somersworth, New Hampshire, Brown ran 50:15 to beat Zamparelli, Kelley and Pawson. Three days later, on July 31st at a 12-miler in Webster, Mass., Brown ran 1:03:13, with Zamparelli 2nd in 1:05:10. On Aug. 5th, Brown, Pawson and Zamparelli went 1-2-3 at the 1st Annual Knights of Columbus 10-miler in Providence, with Brown timed in 52:05. All of this shorter distance success came the same year that Brown struggled to a 3:38 at Boston.




“Brown and Zamparelli set the pace from shortly after the start, and for six miles they were neck and neck like a yoke of oxen. But, after leaving the seven mile marker—the Cascade Road on the State Highway—Brown began to forge ahead, and Zamparelli, striving to keep pace, gradually fell behind. The Indian, in perfect condition, finished strong and fresh, no more winded than a sports writer after one hundred yards.”




“Pawson’s third place duel with Donahue was exciting. Two hundred yards from the finish, Donahue had a 10 yard lead, but Pawson sprinted up to him. Donahue accepted the challenge, but the veteran Pawson had a bit too much. Twenty-five yards from the finish line, Pawson moved in front.”




Brown finished in 51:18.6, with Zamparelli 45 seconds back in 52:03.6. Les Pawson posted a 52:44.2, one second up on Donahue.




The fifth through tenth place finishers were all from Massachusetts, including George Durgin of Beverly, Paul Donato of Roxbury, Dave Murphy of Marblehead, Italo Amicangioli of Boston and John Fitzgerald of Lynn.



Clarence DeMar, with a time of 58:08.8, “finished eleventh, but the grand old man was accorded the loudest ovation of the day by the crowd that lined the way.”




Sam Ouellette of Milo was the first Mainer, taking 17th place. Ouellette first ran the Boston Marathon in 1928, and would go on to run the race another 34 times, with his best time around 2:27. Other Maine finishers included George McCaffery of Biddeford, Francis Perry of Biddeford and Durward C. Brewer of Portland, who were 22nd through 24th, respectively.




The first twelve finishers won prizes donated by merchants in Old Orchard Beach and Portland, including a gold watch, a signet ring, an electric razor, a radio, a toilet set, a cocktail set, a pencil and pen, a candid camera, a black bag, a travelling bag and a box of cigars.




OOB 10M victor Tarzan Brown wears the bathrobe donated by the A.H. Benoit company while being congratulated by Les Pawson (L) and Hawk Zamparelli. Photo courtesy of Portland Press Herald




The A. H. Benoit Co. of Portland donated a bathrobe, which was either given to the top finisher or winner. Tarzan Brown chose it from the array of prizes. The granddaughter of company founder Arthur H. Benoit, Olympic gold medalist Joan Benoit Samuelson, would equal Brown’s two Boston wins, setting the world record at the 1983 running. This photograph of Brown wearing a bathrobe from the Benoit clothing store is the only known link between the two Boston champions.




(Ed. note:The race was again contested in 1939 and 1940, but as a “handicap” event where starts were staggered according to a runner’s anticipated pace. The 1940 race was the last for the OOB 10M, won by Tarzan Brown with an elapsed time of 51:32.)




In 1949, three-time Thomaston 15K winner Ed Shepard was recruited to assist the Maine Amateur Athletic Association with promoting the sport of distance running, and the following year became the state Secretary-Treasurer. Ed was instrumental in staging the 1950 and 1951 Maine AAU marathons and numerous shorter events, including the Thomaston race.

Nine nationally known teams entered the event, including the Boston Athletic Association, Millrose A.A. of New York City, Mutual of Omaha A.A. of Philadelphia, and White Horse Social Club of Baltimore. The New York Pioneer Club, whose roster included the great Ted Corbitt, took second to the BAA in the team event. The race was briefly considered as a site of a tryout race for the 1952 Olympic marathon team.




These races, as well as countless other footraces across the country, have for the most part been lost to the historical record. Innumerable courses, spectators, runners, times, footfalls and breaths have been forgotten, and not many will receive the attention they deserve. In an era before Cool Running and Maine Running Photos, when few running magazines were published and camera ownership was limited, the visual and textual records of these events are generally stored on newspaper microfilm reels or in private and public collections. Unfortunately, most of those records will remain hidden. Uncovering them can produce stories and images that stir the imagination, and possibly inspire someone to make their own history in a future race.


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